The Show-Me State is home to a small but growing black bear population. Female bears with cubs are an increasingly common sight here, and the average size of Missouri bears is increasing as young bears that come north across the Arkansas border and those born here mature. Most Missouri bear encounters are brief. However, hunger occasionally overrides this shyness.
"If a bear is hungry enough and smells something that is tempting enough, it may investigate, even if it knows people are around," said Resource Scientist Jeff Beringer, the Missouri Department of Conservation's bear specialist.
He said bears that lose their fear of humans sometimes have to be killed.
This fact is behind the old saying, "A fed bear is a dead bear."
Campers can help avoid creating "fed bears" by following the Ten Commandments of Camping with Bears.
I. NEVER FEED BEARS
Not only does feeding bears and other wildlife encourage an unhealthy loss of wildness, it can help spread diseases by concentrating animals around an unnatural food source.
II. KEEP A CLEAN CAMP
Bears don't discriminate between food and garbage. They find food scraps and wrappers as enticing as a full meal.
III. WASH UTENSILS AFTER COOKING
Bears' keen sense of smell can detect food odors long after cooking is done.
IV. START FOOD PREP AT HOME
Peeling and slicing vegetables, cooking meat and doing other food preparation at home reduces the amount of garbage and smell produced in camp.
V. STORE FOOD IN AIRTIGHT CONTAINERS
Rubberized dry bags, jars with tight-sealing lids and sealable plastic bags help minimize tantalizing aromas. Store food in locked vehicles or car trunks at night.
VI. DON'T COOK OR EAT IN TENTS
With people hidden from view, a bear can mistake a tent for a food source.
VII. KEEP GARBAGE SEALED UP
Double bag refuse and lock it in a car trunk or airtight container.
VIII. TREAT SCENTED ITEMS LIKE FOOD
Soap, cosmetics and other scented items don't smell like food to you, but they do to a bear.
IX. NEVER APPROACH BEARS
Wild animals are unpredictable and can be dangerous when brought into unnatural contact with people.
X. KEEP DOGS LEASHED
Bears normally flee when they encounter people, but if cornered by a dog they will defend themselves.